Recruiting officials are screening more than 4,000 applications from soldiers who hope to be chosen to play video games full time for the Army.
U.S. Army Recruiting Command may select up to 30 of the service's top gamers to be on the new Army Esports Team and compete in local, regional and national gaming tournaments.
The Army Esports Team -- which will become part of the new Marketing and Engagement Brigade based at Fort Knox, Kentucky -- is a component of the new recruiting strategy the service launched after it missed its annual recruiting goal last year by 6,500 soldiers.
Recruiting officials hope that soldiers who compete in these gaming tournaments will help the service connect with this specific, but growing, segment of the American youth population.
Roughly 35 percent of American males ages 21 to 35 participate in this market, which is estimated to be worth $1.9 billion, recruiting officials say. They often play multiplayer, first-person shooter games such as Overwatch and Call of Duty on systems ranging from personal computers to PlayStations, both on their own and in tournaments sponsored by civilian gaming leagues.
Young soldiers are part of this subculture, according to Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Army Esports Team.
"Soldiers are showing a want and desire to not only play gaming ... but also be in competitive gaming, and we understand that is a really good connection to our target market," he said. "These soldiers will actually be hand-selected, so what we are doing is grouping them together and -- based upon the title and platform that they wish to compete in -- having them scrimmage within those groups to find out who are the best we have."
Jones has been gaming since he was five years old and has a "custom-built PC, a Nintendo Switch, PS4 Pro and an Xbox One X. So if there is a game, I normally play it," he said.
Part of the screening process will include ensuring that candidates also meet Army physical fitness, height and weight standards.
"Those soldiers will be screened from there to make sure that not only can they compete, but [they] are the top-quality soldier that we are looking for in order to move here to Knox to compete," Jones said. "We want those soldiers, when they go to these events, to be able to articulate to the public."
Team members will serve 36 months at Fort Knox and travel to tournaments, supporting the Army's recruiting efforts at high schools and colleges, he said.
Many applicants who aren’t selected for the team could still be involved in the effort, Jones said.
"There are a lot of soldiers that just want to be a part of the community and want to help out even outside of competitive play," he said. "We do have soldiers who have applied to the program and said, 'I know I'm not competitive; however, I wish to help grow this.' "
These soldiers can still participate on their off time, doing exactly what they already have been doing, Jones said.
"The difference is we are giving them a platform to play together ... whether it be participating in online tournaments or just playing together and showcasing that to the American public," he said.
"Essentially, soldiers are already playing video games," Jones said. "We are just bringing to the light what is already in existence."
The eSports world is widely shared on "Twist TV and all of these streaming services," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Dodge, a spokesman for Army Recruiting Command.
"We know that there is a large [portion] of the population out there that is watching these video game tournaments and watching people game, and this is allowing our soldiers who are already doing this and competing in these tournaments to get out there and connect with that large population," Dodge said.
"So with this, we can touch a huge number of people and tell our Army story and help get them potentially interested in wanting to serve," he added.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.